KOKOMO, Ind. — The crowd cheered as the young ballplayer strode to home plate, and pointed confidently to the Kokomo Municipal Stadium center field fence.
He choked the bat up onto his right shoulder to swing at the yellow ball perched on the tee, sending it flying over the throng of infielders, and then took off at a run for first base. A player picked up the ball and threw it underhand to the first baseman, who reached out a glove and caught it, officially making the out.
But in this game, the runner was safe, and continued on to score a run. Because in the Athletes of All Abilities game, everybody hits, nobody gets out, and both teams win.
Hosted by the Indiana University Kokomo baseball team, the annual softball game pairs college players with an adult with a disability, served by Bona Vista.
We look forward to this every year. It’s one of our favorite days,” said Coach Matt Howard, adding that his team gets as much out of it, or more, than the Bona Vista athletes.
We enjoy seeing their smiles, and being on the field with them,” he said.
The feeling is mutual, according to Alison Brantley, Bona Vista’s director of development and training.
Every year, the day after this event, they’re already asking me when we’re doing this again,” she said. “Our players would do this in the middle of winter if we’d open the stadium. We are super thankful to IU Kokomo and Coach Howard for putting on this event.”
The smell of popcorn, and the sounds of upbeat music filled the air, as the ball players lined up to be matched their game partner, offering a handshake, a high five, or even a hug as they meet.
IU Kokomo’s players take a back seat to the Bona Vista athletes, offering encouragement, fist bumps, and high fives as they play. They walk to the plate with their assigned teammate and offer encouragement and a little coaching, and then run after them to first base — and follow along if the player decides to steal the next base, or even pass the runner in front of them.
If the player uses a wheelchair, the IU Kokomo athlete jogs along behind to push him or her around the bases.
When a Bona Vista athlete scores a run, the crowd goes wild, and the IU Kokomo team members are just as happy as their partners.
It’s really fun for both sides,” said Max McKee, a shortstop/second baseman from Middletown. “We’re not worried about playing the game, just having fun.”
He added that some of the people from Bona Vista come to the IU Kokomo games, and hosting the event for them is a chance to say thank you for being fans.
Pitcher Eston Stull, Pendleton, said it’s an opportunity to make friends, with a little teaching thrown in.
Some of them are teaching us more than we teach them,” he said. “Anytime you can reach out to the people from Bona Vista, they are the most fun and caring people you will meet.”
Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.